A recurring favorite among sports gamers, 3DO's pro baseball series returns to its native PC platform with new gameplay elements and enhanced presentation. High Heat Baseball 2003 features "signature" pitcher and batter animations, improved "TruPlay" artificial intelligence, and more effusive, situation-appropriate commentary, while retaining the accurate statistics and realistic play for which the PC series is known. Other new extras, like animated base coaches, umpire arguments, and even player ejections add to the authenticity of the overall experience. This year's version of the game uses an advanced display engine working with DirectX 8.1 to deliver the series' richest, most realistic graphics to date. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this year's game benefit Curt's Pitch for ALS, the Curt Schilling charity dedicated to research and treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease").
Baseball. The only sport where the action is limited to spurts of 10 seconds or less when the ball is in play, but what an exciting 10 seconds it can be. The game can range from simplistic to the frighteningly strategic and because of that, making a game based on the American national pastime can be difficult. 3DO's offering, High Heat Major League Baseball 2003 is an interesting attempt at a modular baseball game - one that can be both a simulator and a pick-up title. The results are a mixed bag; you end up with a title that is really fun to play once you overlook the problems.
Starting with the opening menus, you've got a variety of modes of play to choose from. Depending upon the amount of free time, you can choose to play an Exhibition Game, a Season, a Career (follow a franchise through multiple seasons), have a Home Run Derby, or practice pitching and batting. The Exhibition menu brings up a variety of options ranging from specific team rosters to weather, to rule sets, to omniscient rules (like no errors, computer controlled base-running and fielding). The settings allow the gamer to be as in-depth as they choose. The Season and Career Modes lose some of the situational options (like day games or weather) but have a variety of additional concerns such as trades, free agent signings, and drafting (only for Career Mode). The detail becomes more frightening once you realize that there are farm teams to bring the young talent up on. The Home Run derby is pretty standard, but the practice modes are extremely critical in High Heat. The hitting and pitching modes definitely require time to get good at, and more importantly you can choose any hitter or pitcher in the majors to practice against (it's sort of a sneaky way to develop some in-game tactics against opponents). It took most people (in my office) an average of 30 minutes to be able to pitch and hit effectively enough to play an actual game (at the end of those 30 minutes we were able to beat our opponents mercilessly into submission).
Now to the graphics, the game looks like something designed 3-5 years ago. The textures are really grainy even at the highest resolutions and 3D acceleration. (Raul Mondesi's big guns looked like some dude was wearing beef-jerky prosthetic arms - and even worse some of the rendered faces look like they can be peeled off when the batters step into the boxes.) The stadiums look terrible, all the crowds look like colored blobs that don't move an inch during the course of the game (it's even more un-realistic when Olympic Stadium is sold out when the Milwaukee Brewers come to town... you couldn't even fill the player's benches for that game). Most annoying has to be the in-game text, which borders on cruel - for a game so based on statistics and averages it would be nice to be able to read what the game is trying to tell me. For how bad the graphics look, the designers made some really cool character designs - all of the players move and react similar to reality, i.e. pitchers will jostle and pick up the rosin bag while waiting for a batter to settle, 1st baseman will change their glove positions and stance while fishing a ball out of the dirt, and batter's swings can look completely different depending on whether they are pulling the ball or not... tres cool. The in-game sound is much better; at least all of the action is authentically matched. From the sounds of the stadium to the crack of a wooden bat - they're great. The announcing could have benefited from tweaking though. (Actual pieces of dialogue during an at-bat half inning with the controller un-plugged: "You've just got to believe that the last hack he took was him waiting on a fastball", "He was sure ahead of that last pitch", "If he wasn't so aggressive at the plate, he'd probably draw more walks").
The game-play itself is rather quick, a gamer could complete a 9 inning game in a half-hour or so, which is perfect for a short break from reality. Because the action is so quick, this is one title that really benefits from owning a "console-style" controller. This leads to my last complaint - no ability to remap the buttons for the keyboard or controllers, which is a real problem because you can't figure out which buttons do what. The detail in the managerial controls are good - you can easily send out pinch hitters or change position players by clicking and dragging players with the mouse. But most important is the fact that the game will not allow you to do anything really stupid like let a 2nd baseman pitch or move a player to an unrelated position.
All in all, you end up with a game that is fun to play but is riddled with quirks and some problems. If you can overlook these problems, High Heat Baseball 2003 is a good game.
People who downloaded High Heat Major League Baseball 2003 have also downloaded:
MVP Baseball 2005, Hardball V Enhanced (a.k.a. Hardball 5 Enhanced), Front Page Sports: Baseball Pro '98, Tony La Russa Baseball 3, Triple Play 2001, MVP Baseball 2004, Oldtime Baseball, Front Page Sports Football Pro '98
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